Offering Compassion And Support
Hospice Northwest Volunteer Visiting matches persons who are diagnosed with life limiting illness with caring volunteers who have undergone intensive training. The goal is to enhance the client’s quality of life through confidential companionship and support. Every effort is made to have the client and family direct the volunteer visiting relationship, so that the kind of service that emerges is one that is most appropriate for the individual and family. Katherine Poulin has offered compassion and support to those experiencing life’s beginning and to those who are approaching its end. As a doula, she provided information and emotional and physical support to mothers as they progressed through pregnancy and childbirth. As a hospice volunteer, she now does similar work. She says, it is “really not that different from doula work. You’re sitting there, with someone who needs to be delivered through a painful experience, and all you want to do is make that journey for them as easy as possible. It’s just the other end of life. Instead of seeing someone into life, you’re seeing someone out of life.”
Katherine heard about Hospice Northwest from her mother-in-law, who had been an active volunteer. She soon found hospice volunteering was also a good fit for her. Three years into her new caregiving role, she says, "the most valuable thing I have learned from my clients is to live in the moment…I’ve learned to really use the good days, no matter what. Because that might be the last moment, we don’t know.” Hospice volunteers and clients form special relationships that differ strongly from the bonds between family members. “It’s different when you’re working with someone and you have an understanding beforehand. She knows she’s going to die, I know she’s going to die, and we’re both comfortable with it. With your own family member…we don’t talk about it because we both don’t want it to happen. Family members are so wrapped up in their loved one’s physical needs. Are they in pain? What can I do for them? Does she have enough socks to last the week?”
But as a volunteer, Katherine is able to talk with her clients about anything. She loves to hear their life stories and clients will also talk to her about their thoughts on dying. “You do fall in love with every one of them, says Katherine. “It’s almost like they’re setting their story down when they tell you 'This was my life,' and they’re giving it to you.” She'll often sit quietly with client, sometimes holding hands. She recalls holding the hand of a client as the man was going to sleep. "He'd had a bad day. He had been really agitated. He didn’t need any great philosophies of life or anything explained to him —he just wanted human contact. And sometimes that’s right at the root of what your client needs at that moment.”
Katherine has found a niche volunteering in the city’s homes for the aged. “There is such a need in long term care. There are so many lonely people there, and they need a companion." Her favourite stories are those told by the elders: “These people are like a book. Their cover is tattered and their pages are all bent and water stained. There’s a really good story in there. You know, you see two books on a shelf, and one of them is brand new and the other one is all tattered, and you think, “Well that [old one] must be the good book!”
The United Way of Thunder Bay is addressing social issues in our community and investing in 3 critical areas: Moving people from poverty to possibility; Fostering a strong community; Helping kids to be all they can be. Your donations are improving lives for local people every day. By donating to the 2014 United Way campaign you can support the Hospice Volunteer Visiting Program and 62 other local programs in our community.
To learn more about programs supported by the United Way and how you can make a difference by giving, explore our website or call 623-6420 today.